Tag Archives: Little Birds

Ruffling feathers

Juno Temple and Yumna Marwan cross paths as two women whose lives become dangerously entangled in Little Birds, a Sky Atlantic drama set in the vibrant and intoxicating surroundings of 1950s Tangier.

If the goal of a television drama is to submerge its audience in an enticing new world, Little Birds looks set to leave viewers drowning in the dizzying array of colours, music and clothing that makes up 1950s Tangier, a place of intrigue and mystery that attracts people from all over the world.

One of the last outposts of colonial decadence, the Moroccan landscape could prove to be as much as a culture shock for those watching as it is for Lucy Savage, a troubled American heiress who lands in this international melting pot.

It’s here that Lucy must navigate the sexual, personal and political tensions of the town, all while longing for a less conventional life free from the societal cage in which she has been raised. Her fiancé, aristocratic English lord Hugo Cavendish-Smyth, is torn between his duty to Lucy and his lover Adham Abaza, the most eligible man in Tangier.

Lucy’s story is intertwined with that of dominatrix Cherifa Lamour, who is a celebrity in a town where anything goes. As she attempts to change the world around her, Cherifa’s presence enraptures Secretary Pierre Vaney, who is desperately in love with her.

Against a backdrop of hedonism, Lucy and Cherifa struggle to find their independence in a country looking to break free from its past. Their lives reveal private desires and public politics in a period drama that carries distinctly modern themes of freedom and feminism.

Juno Temple as Lucy in Sky Atlantic’s Little Birds

“Lucy’s got an incredibly powerful father who is very much in control of her life in New York, and she’s also a young woman who has a massive hunger within her for things bigger than women were allowed in the 1950s, which has meant she’s been institutionalised in her younger years,” explains Juno Temple (Dirty John), who plays the young heiress.

“When we meet her, she’s about to move to Tangier to start her dream life, where she’s going to marry a handsome English lord. But she arrives in Tangier and it is more vivid, luscious, sexual and alive than anything she could ever have imagined.

“She really falls down the rabbit hole and things start to get pretty bonkers. She meets Cherifa and they have this incredible connection. Throughout the rest of the journey, they have these palpable and important moments that truly change their lives forever. Really, it’s about two women who help each other be the best versions of themselves they can be. So there’s this wonderful and protective yet inquisitive and also inspiring relationship between Lucy and Cherifa that is really exciting and I haven’t seen before. Hopefully, we bring that to life beautifully.”

As a dominatrix, Cherifa caters to the fetishes of the expat population of the town, having made her way into sex work after growing up on the streets. “When you see her character and Lucy’s character, you feel initially they are very far away from each other. They have very different histories and come from very different places,” says Lebanon-born Yunma Marwan (The Translator), who plays Cherifa in her first English-language screen role. “But as the series progresses, you really understand that their inner struggles are very much the same.”

Yunma Marwan plays Cherifa

Meanwhile, the story begins with Hugo in a relationship with Adham as he is about to marry Lucy. “You think that’s most of his troubles, but it’s not,” jokes Hugh Skinner (Fleabag), who stars as Hugo. “There’s growing political unrest in Tangier as it moves towards independence, and Hugo unwittingly gets involved in an arms deal via his father-in-law.”

The actors are among a multinational cast that populates the six-part series, with co-stars including French actors Raphael Acloque (Adham) and Jean-Marc Barr (Pierre). The ensemble are full of praise for director Stacie Passon (The Affair, House of Cards) for creating an atmosphere that was as vibrant as the sets they were filming on. “She is so brilliant because she has this childish quality where she just wants to try everything, see everything, taste everything, know everything,” says Temple. “When your director is like that, you are so filled with joy coming to work every day because you try everything. What doesn’t work, you try again; and what does work, you get so excited for and you celebrate.

“You would walk from the make-up trailer into this room that you never wanted to leave. It was dripping neon colours and it felt like a world that would kill you if you didn’t leave it, but one you never wanted to leave. It was also a safe space to let our freak flags fly, and Stacie encouraged that. She’s a brilliant, brave and truly extraordinary director I would do anything for.”

Exec producers Ruth McCance and Peter Carlton, from Warp Films (The Last Panthers), are similarly effusive about Passon. “We kept trying to give her more time to do things but she wanted to meet the schedule so she was fantastic at driving things and keeping the energy high on set,” says McCance. “The show is so strange and seductive. We were all giving it so much, so there was a real will within the crew. It was quite humbling.”

Peter Carlton

“What Stacie’s got is the confidence to be open, to say when she doesn’t know and to receive other ideas. But because she’s confident, she will know whether it’s right for the show,” Carlton continues. “What was amazing was you got this openness and very light feeling on set because people felt really trusted and felt they were in very safe hands. It’s that wonderful thing of artistic freedom without indulgence. Everybody rose to that. People really followed her.”

Little Birds is inspired by the collection of 1940s erotic short stories of the same name by Anaïs Nin, with the series penned by writer and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria. It began as a one-page treatment for an anthology series, with each episode written by a different writer, before the producers sat down with Al-Maria to explore her bigger idea of taking the spirit of Nin’s stories to 1950s Tangier.

“It felt like trying to [set] Anaïs Nin now would be quite weird because it is period, so that’s why the series started as period. Her stories felt like they needed to stay there,” Carlton explains. “That great idea to be in Tangier in the 50s gave us somewhere where everything was shifting, which felt very contemporary, looking at gender identity and racial identity, power and sex, and it was, ‘Bingo, we’ve got something that could be sci-fi, although it’s technically in the past.’ It’s not Downton Abbey.”

Broadcaster Sky and distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment backed the series throughout its changing development, with the project becoming “weirder and more bonkers” as it went on, according to McCance. The production was even paused for seven months while they waited for the “incredible” Temple to become available.

Ruth McCance

“It’s a melodrama and it’s period, but Warp isn’t really in the business of [traditional] period drama and Sky didn’t want a period drama either,” she says. “So we weren’t looking for someone who looked good in bonnets, necessarily. [Temple] just has this contemporary, fresh vibe and people get the idea of the show being a bit more rock ‘n’ roll when you mention she’s the lead. She brings an identity to it that we thought was really fresh. That’s why we wanted her.”

The show’s story and “technicolour” production design also helped the actors to understand their characters, the Warp exec continues. “It’s almost a little bit comic book, in that it’s heightened and it has big ambition and big emotions, but it all feels true at the same time. We were in pursuit of emotional truth more than anything. The look is very distinctive but it’s not about verisimilitude. It’s not English Patient-levels of recreating the world. The stylisation is very much built in; it was part of the original conception, so the performances had to be honest.”

The stylised production was inspired by 1950s melodramas of the kind directed by Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbender. Exterior scenes for Morocco were filmed over six weeks in Tarifa, Spain, before the production completed interiors at Space Studios in Manchester, England. Unusually, however, director of photography Ed Rutherfood and production designer Anna Pritchard started out working on their designs for interior scenes that would be filmed in a studio, before then matching them to locations that could be dressed in Tarifa. In most cases, studio sets are built to match exteriors.

McCance says the approach was down to “necessity being the mother of invention,” adding: “Anna and Ed brought so much to it and worked brilliantly with Stacie to realise this mad world. With our costume designer Jo Thompson and make-up designer Jacqueta Levon, they were all on the same page.”

“It’s like having a jazz band,” Carlton says. “Everybody knows the basic melody and everyone’s doing their own thing but making sure it complements the other. That creates an incredibly strong identity for the whole, even though what each person is doing is quite individualistic and has a strong flavour.”

Fleabag’s Hugh Skinner is Hugo

Filming in the coastal town of Tarifa wasn’t a stroll on the beach, however, with the crew soon discovering why it is known as the windsurfing capital of the world. “Sometimes you would be bent at 45 degrees and you couldn’t walk forward,” Carlton says of the challenging shooting conditions. “Anna would have dressed a set and you’d come in the next morning and nothing would be there because it had all blown away in the night. It is one of the windiest places in the world. It was like filming in a wind tunnel. After five weeks, it drives you mad.”

Before Little Birds debuts on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday, thoughts have already turned to what a second season may look like and whether it would continue the stories of Lucy and Cherifa or pick up a new band of characters in another glamorous world.

“Having delved into it, there’s so much richness,” Carlton says. “With some of these characters, you want to see what happens to them a few years later and you’d want to see another situation that was similarly glamorous and similarly turbulent with a new story in a slightly new era. That’s something we’re really interested in. It feels like there’s more to tell in that Nin-inspired world.”

“We’re all suckers for melodrama,” adds McCance. “We want audiences to have a good time and think, ‘Is this the best way to live?’ which we think is a very contemporary question. It’s very much why this resonates.”

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Series to Watch: August 2020

DQ checks out the upcoming schedules to pick out 10 new dramas to watch this August, from a psychological thriller written by the creator of comedy Derry Girls to a bold and stylistic drama co-created by and starring Billie Piper.

The Deceived
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Channel 5
Starring: Emily Reid, Emmett J Scanlan, Catherine Walker, Eleanor Methven, Ian McElhinney, Shelley Conn, Dempsey Bovell, Paul Mescal
Air date: August 3
Written by Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee and Tobias Beer, this four-part psychological thriller set between Northern Ireland and Cambridge follows English university student Ophelia (Reid), who falls in love with her married lecturer (Scanlan, pictured). When their affair is interrupted by a shocking death, Ophelia finds herself trapped in a world where she can no longer trust her own mind.

The Fugitive
From: US
Original broadcaster: Quibi
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Boyd Holbrook
Air date: August 3
From the creator of Quibi’s Most Dangerous Game comes The Fugitive, which is described as an edge-of-your-seat crime thriller that sees an innocent man on the run, desperate to clear his name, being pursued through LA by a cop who will not rest until he is captured. Fourteen ‘chapters’ will be released daily until August 18.

Little Birds
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Juno Temple, Yumna Marwan, Hugh Skinner, Nina Sosanya, David Costabile, Raphael Acloque, Rossy de Palma, Amy Landecker
Air date: August 4
Based on erotic vignettes by Anaïs Nin, Little Birds takes viewers into the mesmerising and intoxicating world of the Tangier International Zone of the 1950s. New York heiress Lucy Savage (Temple, pictured) arrives ready for love and marriage in exotic climes. But when her husband Hugo (Skinner) does not greet her in the way she expected, she steps out on her own. What she discovers is a world in flux, a country quivering on the cusp of independence, populated by a myriad of characters – including scandalous dominatrix Cherifa Lamor (Marwan), who particularly captures Lucy’s imagination.

The Rain (S3)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Alba August, Lucas Lyngaard Tønnesen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Lukas Løkken, Sonny Lindberg, Clara Rosager, Natalie Madueño, Evin Ahmad, Rex Leonard, Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Jessica Dinnage, Angela Bundalovic, Lars Simonsen
Air date: August 6
The third and final season of the Danish post-apocalyptic series picks up where season two left off, years after the rain decimated the population of Scandinavia. With Simone (August, pictured) and Rasmus (Lyngaard) finding themselves at odds on how to save humanity, can they put their differences aside to do the right thing?

El robo del siglo (The Great Heist)
From: Colombia
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Andrés Parra, Christian Tappan, Marcela Benjumea, Juan Sebastián Calero, Waldo Urrego, Rodrigo Jerez, Katherine Vélez, Paula Castaño, Pedro Suárez, Édgar Vittorino, Ramsés Ramos, Juan Pablo Barragán
Air date: August 14
El robo del siglo (also pictured top) follows the real-life assault on Colombia’s Bank of the Republic in 1994, which became known as the ‘robbery of the century’ after a band of thieves stole US$33m and turned the whole country upside down.

Lovecraft Country
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Jonathan Majors, June Smollett, Courtney B Vance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, Abbey Lee, Jada Harris, Wunmi Mosaku
Air date: August 16
Based on the novel by Matt Ruff, the 10-episode series follows Atticus Freeman (Majors) as he journeys with his childhood friend Letitia (Smollett) and his uncle George (Vance) on a road trip from Chicago across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father Montrose (Williams). Their search turns into a struggle to survive when they are forced to overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the emergence of monstrous creatures that could be ripped straight from an HP Lovecraft paperback.

From: Sweden
Original broadcaster: Viaplay
Starring: Fares Fares, Johan Rheborg, Anna Björk, Sofia Karemyr, Emelie Garbers
Air date: August 16
Set in the idyllic Jordnära, a gated farming community that is seemingly perfect, Partisan centres on Johnny (Fares), who discovers not everything is as it should be and sets out to make things right.

I Hate Suzie
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Billie Piper, Daniel Ings, Leila Farzad, Nathaniel Martello-White
Air date: August 27
I Hate Suzie is pitched as a bold, bracing drama about the moment in life when the mask slips, asking if anyone can survive being well and truly ‘known.’ The series introduces Suzie Pickles (Piper, pictured), a star on the wane who has her whole life upended when she is hacked and pictures of her emerge in an extremely compromising position. The eight-part series shows her unravelling as the event ricochets around every area of her life. Suzie’s trauma is detailed through the stages – and episode titles – of Shock, Denial, Fear, Shame, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger and Acceptance as she and her best friend and manager Naomi (Farzad) try to hold her life, career and marriage to Cob (Ings) together.

Unsaid Stories
From: UK
Original broadcaster: ITV
Starring: Adelayo Adedayo, Joe Cole, Nicholas Pinnock, Yasmin Monet Prince, Nicole Lecky,
Air date: TBC
Inspired by the Black Lives Matters movement, this is a collection of four powerful and impactful short dramas illustrating the importance of black perspectives.
I Don’t Want to Talk About This tells the story of Thea, a middle-class black woman who is doing well for herself, who bumps into her former boyfriend, Tom, at a party. They end up reassessing their relationship and the challenges they faced being a middle-class black woman and a working-class white bloke and the insidious and undeniable impact of racism on their love and friendship.
Generational opens when Oliver catches his teenage daughter, Justina, sneaking out of the house to attend a Black Lives Matter march. He fears for his daughter’s safety and is concerned she’s putting herself at risk.
Lavender is about a new mother, Jordan, who has recently had a baby with a black man. The drama centres around an uncomfortable conversation had between Lyndsey, Jordan’s white mother, and her mixed-race daughter.
Look at Me tells the story of a young professional couple, Kay and Michael, who are both looking forward to their date. However, en route to the restaurant, they are stopped by the police. Back at Kay’s home, armed with a recording of what happened, we see the change in them from before the incident and the impact it has on them individually and as a couple.

Strike: Lethal White
From: UK
Original broadcaster: BBC/Cinemax
Starring: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Robert Glenister, Natasha O’Keeffe, Kerr Logan
Air date: TBC
Burke and Grainger reunite for the fourth story in the Strike series, based on JK Rowling’s crime novels written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In the grip of psychosis, a young man named Billy Knight arrives at private detective Cormoran Strike’s (Burke) office to tell the story of a child he saw strangled many years ago. Strike is simultaneously hired by government minister Jasper Chiswell (Glenister) to investigate Billy’s brother, Jimmy Knight, who is blackmailing him. As Strike and his partner Robin (Grainger) work to determine how the cases might be connected, Robin goes undercover in the House of Commons.

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